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'Dream Dairy' provides hope to Africa University community

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose

United Methodist missionary Larry Kies checks on cattle at Africa University's dairy farm in Mutare, Zimbabwe.
Dec. 13, 2006

By Cathy Farmer*

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (UMNS) -- One year ago, Alyssa Chrisos was sitting quietly beside her mother at Pisgah United Methodist Church listening to Marsha Dorgan talk about the "Dream Dairy" at Africa University.

Dorgan, an agriculturalist from Paris, Tenn., and a consultant to Africa University, spoke about the dairy cattle and the milk they produce, which helps sustain 80 orphans who live near the campus. Her talk made a big impression on the little 3-year-old. So big, in fact, that when Linda Winstead, the church's mission chairperson, asked Alyssa to take up donations for Africa University and the herd, she eagerly agreed.

Since then, for a year on Sundays, a faithful Alyssa has followed the ushers down the center aisle of the 32-member church carrying her little brown wicker mission basket.

"She goes up to every person," Winstead said. "If you don't put something in the basket for Africa University and the Dream Dairy, you get a pouty look. Makes you feel real guilty."

Her mother, Renee Chrisos, said Alyssa stops at every person. "She's real serious," Renee said. "She'll give them the baddest look if they don't put in that day." She chuckled slightly. "They all put something in."

"Alyssa loves animals and she wants to be sure the orphans have milk and something to eat," said the Rev. H B Fields, the church's pastor. "But, our people aren't giving just because a little girl is asking them to. They're giving because they have a wonderful spirit and a heart for missions."

The people of Pisgah Church are average Americans, Fields said. "They're working people," he explained, "country folks used to taking care of one another. And they know the value of having animals like cows and chickens to subsidize income." Pisgah is an open-country church located on Tennessee Hwy. 118, six miles from Dresden.

"I think they were really impressed by being able to help folks help themselves," he said of the offerings for the dairy herd.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS file photo by Mike DuBose

United Methodist-related Africa University in Mutare, Zimbabwe, serves students from 25 countries.
Dorgan told the Pisgah congregation how the herd was started in 1998 by a Memphis Annual (regional) Conference agriculturalist who visited Zimbabwe with a Volunteers in Mission Team. The herd began with a dream and one bull. "Willy" was purchased by a member of the team in honor of her dog.

Continuing donations to the herd through Heifer Project International enabled the purchase of the first dozen cows. Today's herd of 57 is housed in a newly built dairy barn and cared for by Larry Kies, a United Methodist agricultural missionary, and six farm workers employed by Africa University.

"The herd and farm have made a difference in the community," Dorgan said. "The people are thankful to be able to purchase clean, processed, fresh milk at a reasonable price through the university." The dairy is self-supporting and receives no money from Africa University, and is on its way for more growth. "Thanks be to God!" she said.

And because of the herd, the children at the Fairfield Orphanage nearby also receive a daily allotment of milk.

Although Willy died after a few years from a disease called black leg (there was no money available for the necessary four vaccinations a year to prevent it), the herd is thriving by using artificial insemination. Two baby bulls will soon be sold to community farmers. Breeding them should improve the local herds.

A year after her first visit to Pisgah United Methodist Church to talk about the Dream Dairy, Dorgan came back. Alyssa was ready for her with a check for $1,000. She also had a picture of herself, pulled from her father's wallet, for Dorgan to take to Africa to show the orphans. "So they'll know who I am."

Winstead said the church likes the project. "We like the idea of helping people help themselves instead of just giving them money. This is something the people there can build on."

"I'm proud of our church," Fields said. "Our people love everybody and are concerned about everybody. One little lady told me when I first came that they've loved every pastor they've ever had. They don't talk bad about anyone. And if there's a need, they'll find a way to help."

When Dorgan headed back to Africa University this November, she carried with her a $1,000 check, a picture of Alyssa, and the memory of a little church that cares.

Africa University opened in Mutare, Zimbabwe, in March 1992 as the country's first private, pan-African university. The mission of the United Methodist-related project is to provide quality education within a pan-African context through which individuals can acquire general and professional knowledge and skills, grow in spiritual maturity, and develop sound moral values, ethics and leadership qualities.

*Farmer is director of communications for the Memphis Annual (regional) Conference of the United Methodist Church.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or

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